CHARLOTTESVILLE — With three district titles, two region crowns and an astounding 38-4 record, Jonathan Allen and Ryan Burns know there’s much to be proud of during three years wearing a Stone Bridge football jersey.
But with tears welling up in their eyes and heartache clouding their pride, those achievements offered little consolation as they lingered on the Scott Stadium turf at the University of Virginia following Saturday’s Virginia AAA Division 5 championship.
For the second time in three years, they were left with the feeling that yet another shot at gridiron glory had slipped away.
Deep in their opponents’ territory and needing a touchdown to cap a monumental comeback against Lake Taylor, the Bulldogs fumbled away the ball — and the game — with 21 seconds left to seal Lake Taylor’s 20-14 victory. The result marked the Titans’ first state title and the third championship loss in four years for the Bulldogs.
“I can’t really feel accomplished,” Burns said. “That kind of tradition just sets in. You just need to win this game and anything less is a disappointment.”
What began as a defensive battle broke into a Lake Taylor (15-0) scoring barrage just before halftime. Facing a third and 22, Delmon Williams found Ja’Kale Pinkney across the middle for a 68-yard touchdown at the 2 minute 45 second mark of the second quarter.
After forcing Stone Bridge into a three and out, the Titans blocked a Ryan Burns punt and recovered the ball at the Bulldogs 25. Two plays later, Nhyre Quinerly took a shovel pass 19 yards for another score to build a 14-0 advantage, marking just the second halftime deficit for Stone Bridge this season.
Another broken play, this time a fumbled punt return, allowed Lake Taylor to recover deep in Stone Bridge (14-1) territory. On the ensuing play, Daquan Davis powered into the end zone from 11 yards out for a 20-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
But after struggling to move downfield and failing to convert on three fourth-down tries, the Bulldogs responded. Burns (119 rushing yards) led the charge on the ground, breaking loose for a 53-yard run that set up his own four-yard touchdown rush.
In the fourth quarter, Rassaun Goldring snagged a 29-yard catch across the middle on fourth down. Burns bulldozed into the end zone from one yard out on the next play to make it 20-13, Lake Taylor.
“They’re not going to give up the big play until you run the ball at them over and over. It was going to take time,” Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson said. “I felt like eventually we would break some plays and get something and we did.”
Using an assortment of powerful runs to move downfield from their own 16, the Bulldogs found themselves 20 yards from the end zone and 21 seconds away from a thrilling comeback. But as a Bulldog took a third-down handoff up the middle, a Lake Taylor defender knocked the ball loose. Titans linebacker Jamel Spellman recovered, sending his sideline into a frenzy while spiraling the Bulldogs into a familiar abyss of disappointment.
“We knew [Stone Bridge] had been down and were capable of coming back and scoring some points . . . but we came up with the ball in the end,” Titans Coach Hank Sawyer said. “It’s just an awesome, unreal, unbelievable feeling.”
“On one hand, I would rather not even win the region than come to this game and lose. It’s no fun,” Thompson said. “Being in this game makes me feel nothing as a coach because I feel like I let the players down. You either win all five or just cut the cord. But I guess someday I’ll look back and say I can’t believe I said that.”